10 Places that Nerve in Your Arm Can be Pinched

If you have a pinched nerve in your arm, you may think that it could be pinched, or impinged, somewhere in your spine or shoulder. You may even wonder if you have carpal tunnel syndrome.

It may be a little intimidating to think that the nerve could be pinched in so many more places, but as I will explain, this simple fact opens up a whole slew of options for you.

You may even have already been to a health practitioner about the problem. They may have checked a couple places and not found any signs of nerve impingement, but did they check all of them?

The simple truth is that most of the locations that a nerve in the arm can be pinched are as it passes through muscle or connective tissue. Muscle and connective tissue aren't on the radar for a large number of providers, and even when it is, it may not be their specialty.

On the other hand, muscle and connective tissue is all I work with, day in and day out. Suffice it to say that I think about these things a lot.

Symptoms of Nerve Impingement

Feelings of numbness, tingling, or electrical sensations are symptoms of nerve impingement. Pain and muscle weakness may also indicate that a nerve is impinged.

When these symptoms appear in the arm or hand, it means that you may have a pinched nerve somewhere in the neck, shoulder, or arm.

Areas of Potential Nerve Impingement in the Upper Extremity

As mentioned in "The Truth About Carpal Tunnel Syndrome," there are many locations in the neck and arm where the nerves can be impinged. Here is a list:

  1. As they exit the spine, the nerves of the arm, also known as the brachial plexus, can be compressed (pinched) by a herniated disc or between the vertebrae themselves.

    The presence of a kind of deformation, known as a cervical rib, may also contribute to impingement of the brachial plexus.

  2. Between two neck muscles known as the anterior and middle scalene muscles.

  3. Under the clavicle.

  4. Under the pectoralis minor.

  5. Under the bicipital aponeurosis, part of the connective tissue that anchors the biceps brachii muscle to the forearm.

  6. A passage known as the cubital tunnel.

  7. Between the two heads of the supinator muscle.

  8. Between the two heads of the pronator teres muscle. This particular impingement very closely mimics carpal tunnel syndrome.

  9. In the carpal tunnel of the wrist.

  10. In another passage through the wrist known as Guyon's canal.

Narrowing Down the List

That's a pretty big list!

To appropriately address the issue, we need to discover where the nerves are most likely being impinged.

A pinched nerve at the majority of these sites will not show up on an MRI or other imaging study.

The key to determining where the nerve is being pinched is a series of hands-on orthopedic assessments that provide information about each potential site of impingement. 

There's a lot of, "Hold this position for a while, and tell me what, if anything, you feel," or, "Turn your head and take a deep breath while I hold this spot," and that kind of stuff.

Once the areas of likely impingement have been identified, an appropriate treatment strategy can be devised and implemented.

Treating a Pinched Nerve in the Arm or Neck

While the entire chain of tissue from the neck to the hand must be treated, locations that show clinical signs of impingement, like a positive assessment test, will be treated in greater detail.

Areas where the nerve(s) are being pinched by soft tissue, marked in green above, are best treated with manual therapy using a combination of massage, stretching, and techniques that target muscle resting length. 

A similar approach can be taken in areas where the nerve compression is caused by bony structures, marked in yellow; however, the manual therapist must also consider factors unique to each area. Other practitioners, such as orthopedists, osteopaths, and chiropractors have treatment methods at their disposal that can more directly address bony compression.

About the Author

My name is Lovelace Linares. I have been practicing massage in Atlanta since 2001. I taught all aspects of massage for nine years, five of which I directed the massage program at the Atlanta School of Massage.

I'm a bit unconventional in my thinking. I believe that self discovery is the purpose of life. Through it, we can all achieve our greatest potentiontial, both individually and as a society.

To that end, i believe that true relaxation comes from two things: (1) Alleviating pain that you are aware of and (2) addressing tension you are not aware of. Self-awareness is the key.

My practice is located inside Urban Body Studios on the scenic Atlanta Beltline. Orthopedics, Deep tissue, Swedish massage, neuromuscular therapy, Thai massage, and stretching are some of the techniques that I use in my practice.

Related Articles

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: